No Reservations, Making Aioli, and Mindful Living


A couple of nights ago, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he visits Provence.    I had been looking forward to this episode all week.  This is odd because I have never been to Provence, have no plans to go to Provence, and have had no particular interest in the cooking of Provence.   Rather, I think it is the idea of Provence that I found so alluring.  Mr. Bourdain, in fact, does address the reason why many people find the notion of living in Provence appealing.  In the episode, he has a conversation with his hosts where he says:

Everyone in some child-like way craves a life of simplicity where they have a garden, beautiful sun, where they can walk into a small town and everyone will know them and wave…

That’s it.  He nailed it.  There is something appealing about the simple life, something that many of us find so desirous as we struggle with the break-neck speed of daily urban life.   What some of us desire, even if we don’t realize it, is to live more mindfully.  That is,  we actually want to walk through life more slowly, gently, with great focus and attention. 

This concept is explored in a segment of the episode where an elderly woman demonstrated the art of making aioli, an emulsified garlic sauce traditionally made with stone mortar and pestle.    Mr. Bourdain made this comment about aioli-making:

It’s very gentle, the process…You gotta be careful.  You have to keep your voice down.  Show a little respect for the process…

After watching this episode, I began thinking about making some aioli myself — for no other reason except that spreading fresh aioli all over some fish, bread and vegetables sounded delicious.   I did a mental inventory of my pantry:  I have fresh garlic, olive oil, a lemon, and a mortar and pestle.  I could do this.   Then I began trolling the internet for recipes and found everything from the highly convoluted (chipotle aioli made with mayonaise… eeewwww) to the plain and easy.   Finally, I found a video on YouTube demonstrating the simple traditional method,  and I committed the process to memory.

When I got home from work, I found my mortar and pestle, got out my best extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, peeled three large garlic cloves, and sliced an oh-so-tiny sliver of lemon.  

Then I began to grind the garlic with a scant pinch of salt, softly and gently, just like the elderly woman.  I worked with focus and commitment.  I shut out the sound of cars passing by my front door and imagined myself in a country kitchen.  I imagined using my own home-grown garlic, which I recently planted in a relative’s garden.    With great deliberation I added drops of lemon juice and olive oil and continued grinding.  I fell into a rhythmic motion:  grind, grind, drops of oil, grind, grind, drops of juice.  About 10 minutes later I had a couple of tablespoons of thick, silky smooth, sunny yellow paste.   

I sliced and toasted some fresh bread, still in a mindful state and fully relaxed after a long day at the office.  I took a spoonful of the aioli, slathered it on a hot piece of toast and took a nibble.    Suddenly, I was snapped back to reality.  Fresh aioli, created with so much quiet attention and mindfulness, has a unexpected bite and kick.   It flung me out of my semi-zen state and back to normal time and space.  

Garlic has a way of keeping things real.

So, my point is telling you this is to encourage you to find a routine task, anything, even vacuuming or washing your car, and do it slowly and attentively, with the goal of attaining a simpler, less stressful life, at least for a few minutes.  

I know, it’s not Provence, but maybe its a road in the right direction. 

L. Gloyd (c) 2010

PS:    Here is the video I found on YouTube showing a traditional method of making aioli:

Photograph from


11 responses »

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Lori. Garlic is very hot and bitey. I once tried to take chopped raw garlic as it has wonderful antiseptic qualities, but I only managed it once. Cooking seems to remove the kick. Beautifully written.

  2. Truly a beautiful reminder about maintaining focus, mindful living, and living in the present. Your description was like reading a poetic prayer. When you make something in this manner it becomes sacred. Hail to the sacred garlic! I love the smell and often pass through Gilroy, California’s garlic capitol. However, I have yet to attend the garlic festival and have the garlic ice cream. Eeeeewwww!

    • Ah, yes. Gilroy. The stopping-over place on many family vacations in my youth. If we stopped in Gilroy, then the next day we’d be in San Francisco.

    • When I cook fish, I will place it on a piece of foil, put some sort of lubricant on it (usually olive oil) and fresh herbs. I tent and seal the foil and then bake it in my toaster oven at about 400 for about 20 minutes. I’m thinking using aioli as the lubricant/seasoning might be interesting. I’ll need to give that a try.

      Thanks for stopping by, Vi.

  3. garlic ice cream, which we tasted once in Provence, is heavenly when served with grilled fish. I have searched the internet for hours but have never managed to find a recipe. Perhaps I will take up experimenting on making garlic icecream in my retirement.
    btw living in Provence doesn’t always live up to expectations especially if you are unlucky enough to have neighbours like those in the film Jean de Florette! Been there, done it but that’s another story

    • That’s exactly with Mr. Bourdain’s hosts said. There is a fantasy that revolves around places like Provence or Tuscany or California, etc. Yeah, on some days they are great places to live but then there is the reality of high prices, congested traffic, tourists, etc.

      Regarding, garlic ice-cream… I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around that, but I’ll take your word for it.


  4. I had a great time making aioli for the first time yesterday. It is indeed a slow, thoughtful process. I have a big Thai stone mortar & pestle. Quite a workout for the arm. I misjudged the amount I was making and ended up with enough for a small restaurant. Six cloves to a cup of oil is a bit much. In the end, the aioli was thick enough for the pestle to stand up in. Next time I’ll try to be more conservative as I cook for just me. I imagine the next time I will be more aware of the balance of the ingredients. I think the amount of salt and lemon is the key to a subtle result. Looking forward to the next time.

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